Gadsden Purchase, 1853-1854
The Gadsden Purchase, or Treaty, was an agreement between the United States and Mexico, finalized in 1854, in which the United States agreed to pay Mexico $10 million for a 29,670 square mile portion of Mexico that later became part of Arizona and New Mexico. Gadsden’s Purchase provided the land necessary for a southern transcontinental railroad and attempted to resolve conflicts that lingered after the Mexican-American War.
While the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo formally ended the Mexican-American War in February 1848, tensions between the Governments of Mexico and the United States continued to simmer over the next six years. The two countries each claimed the Mesilla Valley as part of their own country. The Mexican Government demanded monetary compensation for Native American attacks in the region because, under the Treaty, the United States had agreed to protect Mexico from such attacks; however, the United States refused to comply, insisting that while they had agreed to protect Mexico from Native American attacks, they had not agreed to financially compensate for attacks that did occur. The persistent efforts of private American citizens to enter Mexico illegally and incite rebellions in an effort to gain territory exacerbated tensions between the governments.
These continuing tensions between Mexico and the United States complicated U.S. efforts to find a southern route for a transcontinental railroad as the only viable routes passed through Mexican territory. In 1847, the United States attempted to buy the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, an isthmus on the southern edge of North America, as an alternative means of providing a southern connection between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Mexico, however, had already granted Mexican Don José de Garay the right to build colonies for Americans on the isthmus with capital from the New Orleans Company. Fearing the colonists would rebel as those in Texas had, Mexican President Juan Ceballos revoked the grant, angering U.S. investors.
In 1853, Mexican officials evicted Americans from their property in the disputed Mesilla Valley. When the U.S. Government did not act, Governor William Lane of New Mexico declared the Mesilla Valley part of the U.S. territory of New Mexico. Mexican President Antonio de Santa Anna responded by sending troops into the valley. Attempting to diffuse the situation, U.S. President Franklin Pierce sent James Gadsden, the new U.S. Minister to Mexico, to negotiate with Santa Anna. Secretary of State William Marcy instructed Gadsden to renegotiate a border that provided a route for a southern railroad, arrange for a release of U.S. financial obligations for Native American attacks, and settle the monetary claims between the countries related to the Garay project.
Gadsden met with Santa Anna on September 25, 1853. President Pierce sent verbal instructions for Gadsden through Christopher Ward, an agent for U.S. investors in the Garay project, giving Gadsden negotiating options ranging from $50 million for lower California and a large portion of northern Mexico to $15 million for a smaller land deal that would still provide for a southern railroad. Ward also lied to Gadsden, stating the President wanted the claims of the Garay party addressed in any treaty concluded with the Mexican Government; however, President Pierce never gave Ward these instructions because he did not believe in government involvement in affairs between private companies and foreign governments. Santa Anna refused to sell a large portion of Mexico, but he needed money to fund an army to put down ongoing rebellions, so on December 30, 1953 he and Gadsden signed a treaty stipulating that the United States would pay $15 million for 45,000 square miles south of the New Mexico territory and assume private American claims, including those related to the Garay deal. The United States Government agreed to work toward preventing American raids along Mexico’s border and Mexico voided U.S. responsibility for Native American attacks.
With a great deal of difficulty resulting from the increasing strife between the northern and southern states, the U.S. Senate ratified a revised treaty on April 25, 1854. The new treaty reduced the amount paid to Mexico to $10 million and the land purchased to 29,670 square miles, and removed any mention of Native American attacks and private claims. President Pierce signed the treaty and Gadsden presented the new treaty to Santa Anna, who signed it on June 8, 1854.
After Gadsden’s Purchase a new border dispute caused tension over the United States’ payment, and the treaty failed to resolve the issues surrounding financial claims and border attacks. However, it did create the southern border of the present-day United States, despite the beliefs of the vast majority of policymakers at the time who thought the United States would eventually expand further into Mexico.
The Gadsden Purchase (known as Venta de La Mesilla in Mexico) is a 29,670 square miles (76,845 km²) region of what is today southern Arizona and New Mexico that was purchased by the United States from Mexico in 1853 for $10 million. The initial purchase treaty was signed in Mexico in 1853, but a very different treaty was finally ratified by the U.S. Senate and signed by President Franklin Pierce on June 24, 1854. The purchase included lands south of the Gila River and west of the Rio Grande.
After the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848, border disputes continued between the United States and Mexico. Land that now comprises lower Arizona and New Mexico was part of a proposed southern route for a transcontinental railroad. U.S. President Franklin Pierce was convinced by Jefferson Davis, then the country’s Secretary of War, to send James Gadsden (who had personal interests in the rail route) to negotiate the Gadsden Purchase with Mexico.
Under the resulting agreement, the U.S. paid Mexico $10 million (equivalent to about $230 million in 2004 dollars) to secure the land. The amount of money paid led to some conflict: even though the agreement specified $10 million, the U.S. Congress agreed on only $7 million ($163 million in 2006 dollars). When the money arrived in Mexico City, $1 million ($23 million in 2006 dollars) was missing, resulting in receipt of only $6 million ($140 million in 2006 dollars).
The treaty included a provision,never exercised, allowing the U.S. to build a transoceanic canal across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. With a few exceptions, such as the resolution of the Chamizal dispute, acquisition of land in this purchase defined the present boundaries of the continental United States.
The Gadsden Purchase was intended to allow for the construction of a southern route for a transcontinental railroad. On December 30, 1853, U.S. Minister to Mexico James Gadsden and Mexican President Antonio López de Santa Anna agreed on the price of $10 million for the Gadsden land, which valued the included territory at around $340 per square mile ($130/km²) or about 53 cents per acre.
As the railroad age blossomed, many southerners wanted to build, or at least provide a route for, a southern transcontinental railroad, linking the South with the Pacific coast and providing expanded trade opportunities (and possibly expansion of slave territory). However, the topography of the southern portion of the Mexican Cession was too mountainous to allow a direct route, and what possible routes existed tended to run to the north at their eastern ends, which would favor connections with northern railroads. Interested southerners tended to prefer New Orleans as the eastern terminus of the southern route, but to avoid the mountains, the proposed railroad would have to swing south into what was then Mexican territory. Gadsden, a South Carolinan, was an ardent supporter of a southern railroad, but he envisioned it being built to Charleston, South Carolina. Gadsden was interested in this purchase since he acquired shares of the railroad company that would unite Texas and California.
As originally envisioned, the purchase would have encompassed a much larger region, extending far enough south to include most of the current Mexican states of Coahuila, Chihuahua, Sonora, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas as well as all of the Baja California peninsula. These original boundaries were opposed not only by the Mexican people but also by anti-slavery U.S. Senators who saw the purchase as tantamount to the acquisition of more slave territory. Even the small strip of land that was ultimately acquired was enough to anger the Mexican people, who saw Santa Anna’s actions as yet another betrayal of their country and watched in dismay as he squandered the funds generated by the Purchase. The Gadsden Purchase helped to end Santa Anna’s political career.
Outraged at the reduced size of the purchase, American William Walker led an army from California into Sonora and declared independence for the Republic of Sonora consisting of the remaining non-purchased state of Sonora and the whole of the Baja California peninsula.
The purchased lands were initially appended to the existing New Mexico Territory. To help control the new land, the United States Army established Fort Buchanan on Sonoita Creek in present-day southern Arizona on November 17, 1856. The difficulty of governing the new areas from the territorial capital at Santa Fe led to efforts as early as 1856 to organize a new territory out of the southern portion of the New Mexico Territory. Many of the early settlers in the region were, however, pro-slavery and sympathetic to the South, resulting in an impasse in Congress as to how best to reorganize the territory.
The Gadsden Purchase historical mark near Interstate 10In 1861, during the American Civil War, the Confederacy formed the Confederate Territory of Arizona, including in the new territory mainly areas acquired by the Gadsden Purchase. In 1863, using a north-to-south dividing line, the Union created its own Arizona Territory out of the western half of the New Mexico Territory. The new U.S. Arizona Territory also included most of the lands acquired in the Gadsden Purchase. This territory would be admitted into the Union as the State of Arizona on February 14, 1912, the last area in the lower 48 to receive statehood.
- Yale Law School’s Avalon Project Text of the Gadsden Purchase Treaty
- US Geological Survey Large map
- 1855 map with some proposed railroad routes
- National Park Service Map including route of the Southern Pacific railroad finally built in the 1880s
- ISBN 0595329136 Slavery, Scandal, and Steel Rails: The 1854 Gadsden Purchase and the Building of the Second Transcontinental Railroad Across Arizona and New Mexico Twenty-Five Years Later
- Arizona Daily Star Land sale still thorn to Mexico